From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Notes 1, pages 257-263



Page 258 is blank.

This edition of "Poetry and Truth" is part of an ongoing revision project of the entire series of texts. There are numerous and significant differences from earlier editions of the text including the Weimar edition, however these deviations make up only a small portion of it. Newer edition were brought together for careful comparison with the much treasured Weimar editions of 1818, (see V.31, pp.283 forward) in order to assess their critical value. —

Because a serious eye disorder has prevented me from continuing this work, Max Morris has been good enough to take my place in assisting the publisher with proofreadings and corrections.


The first section describes childhood and education up to the painful transition from an aimless child's existence to striving adolescence. The motto, taken from comedy dramatist Menander of Attica, states "Without torment, no education." This refers to the physical and intellectual "torments of adolescence" without which no development can occur. [Return to text]

As is the case with the 3 parts which follow, Part I is composed of 5 books. Book 1 renders the exposition: general description of setting and main characters (Roethe called it the "Book of the Homeland", see Introduction, page XVII.) Book 2 shows the child in his first interactions with the broader world, especially the literary: Klopstock's Lectures, certain fairytales ("Book of Poetic First Awareness.") Book 3: initial reaction to the outside world; introduction to French culture -- Thorane, and theory -- Derones; first life experiences, high points of childhood ("Book Thorane.")

Book 4: first activities of the childlike intellect and the beginnings of his own literary production (the sibling novel), at the same time the beginning of conscious collecting and concentration. Book 1 corresponds to the first stanza of the poem "Orphic Holy Words", Books 2-4 correspond to the second; Book 5 corresponds with the 3rd stanza of the poem pertaining to the love and sicknesses inherent to the transition from childhood to adolescence. The 4th stanza is well apparent in Part II and the 5th stanza corresponds to Part III.

Page 3, line 3. The letter from a friend is fictional. As in the "Prologue at the Theater" before "Faust" the poet similarly sublimates himself in many characters, one of whom needs to be convinced through clever advice that this is a serious undertaking. Previously in the first edition of his "Writings" from 1787-90 he had published a fiction letter from a friend. [Return to text]

Page 3, line 4. Goethe often called attention to the seriousness of the undertaking. In the end the work remained incomplete because the impetus no longer existed for the accomplishment of the task plus he could no longer find the proper tone for the representation of the living. [Return to text]

Page 3, line 6. The first complete edition; see Introduction, p. VIII. In 1810 a 13th volume containing "Elective Affinities" followed the previous 12 volumes appearing 1806-1808. [Return to text]

Page 3, line 7. Until the 1806 edition "The Mood of the Enamoured" and "Achilles" were unknown. [Return to text]

Page 3, line 18. "All my poetry is occasional poetry." See V.1 of this edition, Introduction. [Return to text]

Page 4, line 8. Goethe himself was good enough to make the comparison at the beginning of the "Goethe Philology": thus the attempts to comment on the motive for and content of "The Secret" or the "Winter Journey in the Harz." He presents his own work in a similar attempt to shed enlightenment on "Poetry and Truth." [Return to text]

Page 4, line 12. The program for "Poetry and Truth." [Return to text]

Goethe's Family Tree

Johann Christian Goethe,
Farrier in Artern on the Unstrut.
Friedrich Georg Goethe,
born in Artern, first a tailor,
then an innkeeper in Frankfurt,
married Cornelia Walter, widowed Schelhorn.
Johann Kaspar Goethe,
Dr. of Jurisprudence, Counsel to the Kaiser,
Privateer in Frankfurt.
Johann Wolfgang Textor,
Dr. of Jurisprudence and trustee in Frankfurt.
Johann Wolfgang Textor,
Counsel to the Kaiser and Chief Magistrate in Frankfurt,
married Anna Margaretha Lindheimer.
Katharina Elisabeth Textor,
married on August 20, 1748.

Johann Wolfgang (v.) Goethe,
August 28, 1749 - March 22, 1832,
married Christiane Vulpius.
Julius August v. Goethe,
married Ottilie v. Pogwisch.
Walther v. Goethe                    Wolfgang v. Goethe                    Alma v. Goethe
1818-1885.                             1820-1893.                          1827-1844.

Page 5, line 6. The outline is printed in the Weimar edition, v.26, p.349 and forward. [Return to text]

Page 6, line 4. Program of "Poetry and Truth" according to its inner form; see Roethe's lecture. [Return to text]

Page 6, line 26. The opportunity never presented itself; see Introduction, p. XI for the letter to Zelter.

First Book (pages 7-49)

Page 7, line 11. Is it truly conceivable that a horoscope of such distinction would have been prepared for the grandson of a city mayor? It probably was derived from life experiences. One might compare it to Wallenstein's Death, Act I, scene 1 and especially the beginning of the "Orphic Holy Words":
         As on the day you came into the world,
         The sun delivered the planets' greeting,
         As you grew your destiny was unfurled,
         According to the laws of their weaving.
         [Return to text]

Page 7, line 21. Historical fact, according to Bettinen's letter of Nov. 4, 1810, which repeated the story of lawyer's wife; supported in the journal of the physician Joh. Chr. Senckenberg. [Return to text]

Page 7, line 24. Goethe does not mention that he was named after his grandfather Johann Wolfgang Textor. The name was prevalent in both families since the 16th Century. See the Family Tree on page 261. [Return to text]

Page 8, line 11. Cornelia, born Dec. 7, 1750 [Return to text]

Page 9, line 26. Cornelia Goethe, nee Walter, was 81 years old at the time of Goethe's birth. [Return to text]

Page 10, line 1. Von Loeper gives ample commentary on these descriptive passages, similar to setting the stage for the first act of life, in his remarks in the Hempel edition. [Return to text]

Page 11, line 15. This tone is repeated in Faust as the main character looks at the commotion within the crowd of fiddlers and nine-pin players. [Return to text]

Page 12, line 7. Giambattista Piranesi (1707-1778). [Return to text]

Page 12, line 21. Goethe's father made his journey to Italy in 1740 and described it in his Italian letters; a portion was published by P. v. Bojanowski in "Weimar Festgrüssen of August 28th, 1899." [Return to text]

Page 12, line 27. "Solitario bosco ombroso" - famous melodic verse by the Italian poet Metastasto. [Return to text]

Page 13, line 15. The puppet show with the figures of Goliath and David amused the children on Christmas night, 1753. It was restaged in "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship," I, chapter 2. Also see Karl Jügel's "The Puppet House: An Heirloom in the Gontard Family" (Frankfurt 1857.) Later works: Marionettes in "Annual Market Festival of Plundersweilern"; there is also a puppet show fable in "Faust." [Return to text]

Page 15, line 19. The poet describes his father city from the perspective of the boy relating his first impressions, thus attempting to show the wonders his eyes beheld as a child thirsty for knowledge. [Return to text]

Page 18, line 7. Le Sage, "The Devil upon Two Sticks", 1707. [Return to text]

Page 19, line 22. First intimation of the wish to show a real king's coronation (Book 5). [Return to text]

Page 20, line 1. The Penal Court Decree (also known as the Carolina) originated with Charles V, not Charles IV. [Return to text]

Page 20, line 20. Günther von Schwarzburg, the counter-kaiser to Charles IV, died in 1349 in Frankfurt. [Return to text]

Page 20, line 26. First conflict between fantasy and experience — a main motive of the youth history. [Return to text]

Page 21, line 32. The battle of Dettingen, June 27, 1743 : [Go to next webpage of notes] [Return to text]

Go to pages 264-270

Text provided by the Lockwood Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks